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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Horikawa River - Reborn

Horikawa River, Kyoto堀川せせらぎ再び

Kyoto's Horikawa River is back after 55 years of being buried under concrete.

Running next to Horikawa Dori (street, which can be seen above and to the right of the river), the Horikawa was for more than half a century literally a trickle, roughly 25 cm (10 inches) wide, surrounded on both sides by a thick ugly layer of concrete.

Instead of the landscaping, benches, and the three-meter wide river pictured above, replace that in your mind's eye with solid concrete - nothing but - and a narrow crack running down the very middle.

Twenty-four years ago, a local group was founded (Committee to Beautify Horikawa Street and Horikawa River, 堀川と堀川通りを美しくする会), and at a cost of $18 million the river has finally returned and along with it a landscaped park.

The wheels of Japanese bureaucracy turn slowly, but at long last this somewhat drab part of town west of the Imperial Palace with few tourist sites has been restored.

The history of the river is as long as that of the city itself. It was built as a canal some 1200 years ago when Kyoto was first established. Barges hauled lumber and farm products along it for hundreds of years.

Later on, the yuzen dyeing industry, which took place mainly in the Nishijin area just north of these photos, used the river to wash the dyes out of fabric. In those days the river was famous for its multi-colored hue - and not used for drinking or anything else.

During World War II, Horikawa Street was widened - and many residents forcibly relocated when their homes were torn down - to serve as firebreak in the event of a US Air Force attack.

Around 1950, the river came to be known as the ドブ川 ("dobu gawa," or ditch river) because the sewer next to the river backed up and its effluent flowed into the river.

Shortly thereafter, because of fears of flooding, the city decided to bury the river under tons and tons of concrete.

And there it lay for 55 years.

Now the renovated park and river stretch 4.4 km, north from Nijo all the way to just south of Imadegawa Dori. It has proved a big hit with families and couples.

Next on our Kyoto public works wish list: 1) installing a light rail system, 2) burying the telephone wires, and 3) building bike lines.

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